American History Industrial America
Westward Expansion


Panama Canal

A French company began building a canal in 1882 to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans across Central America. Many men building the canal died of diseases such as yellow fever and the project was more expensive than the company had planned, so the project stopped.

In 1890 Americans tried to cut a canal through Nicaragua and that failed. President Roosevelt talked with Colombia in 1901 about building the canal. A treaty was signed. The United States requested to buy a six mile wide and 10 mile long strip of land which connected the Atlantic and Pacific. The United States offered to give a down payment of $10 million and $250,000 each year. In 1903 the Colombian senate turned down the offer because they wanted more money.

Some people from the French company and some Americans met with some people in Panama. The French and Americans said they would help Panama break away from Colombia. A revolution took place. The U. S. warship Nashville backed up the revolution with its big guns. Three days after the revolution began, the United States officially recognized the new nation. Less than two weeks later a treaty for building the canal was signed.

Many years later the U. S. paid Colombia $25 million for their losses.

The canal was built by the army. Colonel George Goethals was in charge. William Gorgas was in charge of controlling diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. Doctor Walter Reed learned about the diseases. He found they were carried by mosquitoes.

Gorgas followed Reed's rules.

  • Clear out places where mosquitoes could be found.

  • Cover water supplies with nets.

  • All tents and houses should be covered with nets.

  • Streets should be cleaned

  • New sewers would be built.

In 1906 eight out of ten workers had malaria. By 1913 only 7 out of 100 had the disease.

The canal went through the jungle, across lakes, and over mountains. Explosives were used to blast through the rock. In 1914 the canal was opened. Roosevelt died five years later in 1919.

Panama City 1913

Return to the History Pages